House GOP Seeks Details From Recipients of ACA ‘Navigator’ Funds
In a letter sent last week to recipients of Affordable Care Act "navigator" funds, 15 House GOP lawmakers asked for information about how they plan to use the funds and their interactions with the Obama administration, Kaiser Health News reports. The letter did not identify the recipients that received the letter (Carey, Kaiser Health News, 8/30).
Last month, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that 105 groups nationwide will receive federal grants totaling $67 million under the ACA to serve as "navigators" for the law's insurance exchanges. Federal officials said the navigator grants were awarded to the groups -- such as hospitals, Indian tribes, local food banks, patient advocacy groups and universities -- based on the number of uninsured residents in their states.
The workers would need to complete about 20 hours of initial training between Aug. 15 and the Oct. 1 start of the exchanges' open enrollment period, followed by mandatory "refresher" training through the six-month open enrollment period, according to an HHS spokesperson.
Lawmakers in recent months have raised concerns about the workers' level of training and access to consumers' personal and potentially sensitive data. In particular, some GOP leaders have stepped up their scrutiny of the navigator program and a separate "in-person assisters" program in the states that will operate their own exchanges. The ACA prohibits federal funding for the assisters program because it does not have to meet the same criteria as the navigators program (California Healthline, 8/16).
Details of the Letter
In their letter dated Aug. 29, the 15 Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked for a variety of information relating to the navigator funds, including:
- Copies of all communications between the navigators, the White House, administration supporters and health insurers;
- Details about the grant application process;
- Details about how the groups plan to train their workers and how they might use the information they collect; and
- Any communications with Enroll America -- a not-for-profit organization that has launched a national campaign to help the administration raise awareness and boost enrollment in the exchanges -- along with any "discussions or documents related to geographic area."
According to The Hill's "Healthwatch," the states that received the largest grants are among the states that Enroll America is targeting as part of its national outreach campaigns (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/30).
Administration, Rep. Waxman Criticize Info. Requests as Intimidation
A spokesperson for HHS and the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce panel separately criticized the Republicans' requests for information as efforts to intimidate the recipients of the navigator funds, KHN reports.
Erin Shields Britt of HHS said, "This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years" (Kaiser Health News, 8/30).
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that the letter is an attempt "to intimidate and divert resources from the effort to implement the law" and that the Republicans' investigation is baseless. In a letter to Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Waxman wrote, "There is no legitimate predicate for these letters and no evidence of any malfeasance from any of the organizations" (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/30).
The timing of the letters is "particularly suspect" because the lawmakers "are insisting on voluminous document productions by Sept. 13, just when these groups need to be focused on their mission of helping uninsured Americans enroll for coverage," Waxman added (Kaiser Health News, 8/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.